10 June 2005


Squinter - a sideways look the week

Freedom of a city they’d much rather forget

Get this: Sunday Life has started a campaign to give the British army bomb squad the freedom of our city.

And get this: the SDLP says it’s something that they can look at “sympathetically”.

Squinter’s not sure which part of that he finds more troubling.

Possibly the fact that while others are exercised by the G8 summit, world poverty, Aids and global warming, somebody sat down and decided that the very considerable resources of ‘Sir’ Tony O’Reilly’s bean empire would best be deployed in giving a bunch of alcoholic ne’er-do-wells a slap-up meal at our expense and the right to graze their sheep in Cornmarket. Or possibly the fact that the SDLP think this might be a good idea.

Let’s be clear about one thing – if the bomb squad was being honoured in terms of results, then we’d be better off giving the freedom of the city to the Keep Sport Off Sky TV Association.

When the bomb squad was at its busiest, Belfast made Grozny look like Monaco and the main job of the bomb squad then was to watch from a distance as another screamer filled the city air with smoke and glass and bricks.

Should the old boys get the freedom of Belfast, it won’t be the first time they’ve been invited along to a beano to pick up a gong. Squinter’s diligent researchers have established that the bomb squad has picked up over 300 awards over the years.

Clearly, there’s not space here to list them all, but the following have all had cause to be grateful to the squad...

• The Ulster Glazers’ Association
• Northern Ireland Brick and Concrete Ltd
• The Ulster Vintners’ Association

Over the years, the bomb squad – or the 321 Explosive Ordnance Squadron – has responded to 55,000 call-outs, although, disappointingly, the Soldier (magazine of the British army) fails to note how many of these bombs it managed to neutralise. Not a lot, as somebody on the TV used to say.

Bomb squad vehicles were characterised by the drawing of Felix the cat which, in a rare moment of levity, the squad decided to use as its call-sign because the famous moggy had nine lives and routinely survived all sorts of hair-raising scrapes.

Perhaps none of the squad at that time had a working knowledge of Latin, but the name Felix means lucky, which was a particularly unfortunate choice given that 20 members of the tiny squadron were to be killed and 24 seriously injured.

Those behind the campaign no doubt passionately believe they’re doing a good thing, but Squinter’s not so sure they’ve thought it through.

Given the high rate of post traumatic stress disorder suffered by squadron members, you have to wonder whether it’s a good idea to take them from their gardens in Sussex and bring them back to Belfast just when those sweat-soaked nightmares about hedgerows, milk churns and Morris Marinas were beginning to subside.


In that scrum for McCartney murder showcase...

Squinter must admit that his hard old heart melted at the sight of so many journalists scrambling to get into the court to see two men charged in connection with the killing of Robert McCartney.
Sometimes this cynical old trade can make a person depressed, but sometimes, just sometimes, something happens which reminds us all that hacks are human too.
As Squinter made his way to the court on Saturday, he bumped into a colleague whose concern for victims and their families has been the pilot light which has guided his career.
His simple words said all that needed to be said: “Hey, fella, any idea where the magistrates court is?”
In the middle of the boisterous scrum of journos trying to claim one of the limited number of press places available, an international visitor tapped Squinter on the shoulder and asked: “Are those guys with the caps and the guns IRA or unionists?”
A feature writer from the Azerbaijan Daily News asked Squinter was it true that one of the men present on that fateful night was now willing to give evidence in the case.
Squinter was delighted to report that it was, although he had to add that the witness’s sentencing on an armed robbery rap and his trial on charges of attempted murder arising from a city centre stabbing might hold things up a bit.
Strangely, the Azerbaijan bloke turned on his heel and went back to the airport.
Squinter was equally pleased to note that while two men have now been charged, the McCartney family say they won’t rest until another 15 people have been charged as well.
Cynics might point out that the last time there was a trial in Belfast with 17 people in the dock the only evidence against them was given from behind a curtain by a bloke flown in from Cornwall in a Chinook with a cardboard box over his head.
Personally speaking, Squinter thinks a good show trial is long overdue.


NIPS seek taigs for work and other pleasurable activities

The Brits want to increase the number of Taigs in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Squinter learns this week.
Eager for a much-needed if rather belated career change, Squinter downloaded an application form from the NIPS website which he’s pleased to reproduce here in the hope that some of you will fill it in and return it.
£30,000 a year; 150 sick days a year; subsidised canteen; rent allowance; free membership of the prison officers’ social club, which regular readers of this column will know is a wild west-themed establishment called The Lazy B; free shiny boots.
Sure where would you get it and what are you waiting for?

First name:
a) Simpson
b) Gibson
c) Wilson

a) Simpson
b) Gibson
c) Wilson

a) British army
b) RUC
c) UDA

a) Ulster-Scots
b) Pipe bands
c) Ulster-Scots pipe bands

place of birth:
a) Portadown
b) Londonderry
c) Comber

last job:
Head of the Colombian Cali Cartel.

reason for leaving:
Need more money.

criminal record:
The Old Rugged Cross by William McCrea (©Ye Olde Joke Shoppe)

And by total coverage you mean what


A correspondent writes to say that he eagerly picked up Sunday Life to read the report on the Republic v Israel match only to find to his horror that the World Cup qualifier was dealt with in a single 24-word paragraph.
Can it be true?

It is Squinter’s sad duty to report that he has scanned the five pages of the paper’s ‘World Cup 2006 Total Coverage’ to find that it can indeed be true.
Happily, the report on the Azerbaijan-Poland match is satisfyingly comprehensive.

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